After taking a much-needed bye week, the Villanova Wildcats are set to return to action, as they host the New Hampshire Wildcats on Saturday, at 2 p.m.
Leading up to this battle of Wildcats, Villanova (3-4, 0-4 CAA) has lost three-straight games. It was most recently on the wrong side of a lopsided game, losing to reigning CAA champion James Madison, 37-0, on Oct. 13.
As for New Hampshire (1-6, 0-4 CAA), it is coming off of back-to-back lopsided losses, falling to Stony Brook and Delaware.
Here are three things to watch for in this weekend’s game:
Falls from Grace
Both Wildcat squads are dealing with their own bouts of adversity. For New Hampshire, it is having one of its worst seasons in program history since it finished 0-8 in 1965. New Hampshire has been a fixture in the FCS playoffs since 2004, making it each and every year since. It seems like it will have to miss it for the first time in quite some time. It’s a disappointing season, as it was ranked No. 7 in the FCS top 25 heading into the season. Since then, it hasn’t lived up to its preseason ranking.
Meanwhile, Villanova has had its promising start to the season spin into an unwanted and unexpected direction. ‘Nova started the year off with an upset win over FBS school and city rival Temple and started 3-1. Since then—combined with a number of key injuries—Villanova has been on three-game losing streak that includes close losses to Stony Brook and Maine, as well as a shutout loss by the Dukes. One team will get to jump-start its season with a win.
New Hampshire hasn’t been great offensively. Averaging just 11.7 points per game, it is ranked at the bottom of the CAA. In rushing and passing yardage, it is currently second-to-last. Despite the inconsistent quarterback play and the lackluster rushing attack, New Hampshire has one bright spot on offense.
At 5-foot-11, he’s not the biggest, but Neil O’Connor is rising up the program’s career statistical ranks. The senior wideout is among the top 10 in a variety of categories for New Hampshire. He’s a leader on offense and will be New Hampshire’s go-to guy on Saturday. This season, he brought in 51 receptions for 616 yards and three touchdowns. Almost half of the team’s completions are thanks to O’Connor and no one else comes close to his production. He will be a player to watch and one for the Villanova defense to key in on.
Clean Bill of Health
Aside from the tough losses, Villanova also had to deal with a number of injuries to starting players. Thanks to the bye week, ‘Nova had extra time to rest and recover. Quarterback Zach Bednarczyk is expected to return to the gridiron on Saturday after missing the last two-and-a-half games with a shoulder injury. Since his absence, ‘Nova has only scored two touchdowns over that time period. It has struggled to find a rhythm offensively and when healthy, Bednarczyk has proven himself to be one of the best quarterbacks around. Between his experience and strong arm, he was off to a great start before being sidelined.
Aside from Bednarczyk, ‘Nova is hoping to see a variety of starters back in action. They returned to practice this week and head coach Mark Ferrante hopes to have them ready to go in Saturday’s game. Fifth-year senior and offensive tackle Brandon Hitner, promising freshman defensive back Christian Benford, and defensive veterans Jeff Steeb and Terrell Vassel. These players have been missed by their teammates, and they can possibly have an impact upon returning or at least inspire their team again.